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EACEA National Policies Platform:Eurydice
Organisation of general lower secondary education


6.Secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education

6.1Organisation of general lower secondary education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Types of institutions

The lower secondary schools are called "collèges". They are the only structure for all pupils who have completed their primary education.

According to Articles L421-1 to L421-25 of the Education Code, collèges are local public educational institutions (EPLE), a category of public institutions under the Ministry of National Education. As such, they have legal personality and administrative, financial and pedagogical autonomy, within the limits provided for by the legislative and regulatory texts.

The Board of Directors - the deliberative body of the school - on the report of the principal - the head teacher - sets the principles for the implementation of the pedagogical and educational autonomy of the school and the rules of its organisation. It adopts the budget and the school project.

The physical operation of the collèges (construction and maintenance of buildings, school transport, equipment subsidies, recruitment and management of technical staff, etc.) is provided by the départements.

Geographical accessibility

Articles D 211-10 to D211-11 establish that an académie is divided into sectors and districts. The sectors correspond to the service areas of the collèges. They also establish that a sector must include only one public collège, except in exceptional cases due to geographical conditions. In rural areas, the sector is made up of several communes: the commune in which the collège is located is then called the "chef-lieu de secteur". In urban areas, the sector of a collège is often limited to a fraction of a commune.

Where this promotes social diversity, the same catchment area may be shared by several public secondary schools located within the territorial jurisdiction of the mobility authority.

As far as the operation of school transport is concerned, it is organised and financed by the local authorities (as for primary education), which define the specific regulations.

Admission requirements and choice of school

Admission requirements

All children who have completed primary schools are automatically admitted to collège by their twelfth year. There are two ways to enrol in public education:

-    Pupils from a public or private primary schools under contract are enrolled according to the terms of the school map;

-    Pupils in government-independent private education or educated in their families are subject to an admission examination. The necessary files are transmitted by the services of the academic inspection.

In addition, adapted teaching is organised for the training of pupils with serious and lasting academic difficulties, either within collèges, in the framework of Sections d'Enseignement Général et Professionnel Adapté (SEGPA), or within Établissements Régionaux d'Enseignement Adapté (EREA).

Pupils are admitted to the SEGPA on the decision of the director of the académie, after agreement from the parents or legal representative and the opinion of a departmental guidance committee. The latter is chaired by the académie inspector and composed of members of the inspection bodies, management staff, teachers, parents' representatives, the departmental technical adviser doctor, the departmental technical adviser social worker, a school psychologist and a child psychiatrist....

In principle, the size of SEGPA classes should not exceed 16 pupils. The deputy directors in charge of a SEGPA draw up an annual assessment of the pupils, which they communicate to the parents. If the school or the family wishes to have a review of the orientation, the report is sent to the commission for its opinion. The director of the académie then makes a decision.

The Établissements Régionaux d'Enseignement Adapté (EREA) are local public educational institutions whose mission is to take care of teenagers with serious academic and social difficulties, or with a disability. Pupils are referred to the EREA by :

-    the Commission for the Rights and Autonomy of Disabled Persons (CDA) for pupils with motor or sensory disabilities;

-    the departmental commission for guidance towards adapted secondary education (CDO) for pupils with serious and lasting educational difficulties.

Choice of institution

In public education, the child will be assigned by the Inspector of the Académie to the collège in the geographical sector of the home following the decision of the school's council of teachers.

Following this assignment, an exemption may be granted by the Inspector of Education at the request of the families. Requests are examined according to criteria favouring pupils with disabilities, pupils with significant medical care, pupils with scholarships and those who have to follow a particular educational pathway, depending on the capacity of the school requested.

When this promotes social diversity, the same catchment area may be shared by several public secondary schools located in the territorial jurisdiction of the mobility authority.

Age levels and grouping of students

Education at the collège takes place over four years, corresponding to the classes of 6e, 5e, 4e and 3e. The student normally enters the 6th grade in the 11th year, and is in the 3rd grade in the 14th year.

The 4 levels of the collège are divided into 2 teaching cycles. The first cycle, known as the consolidation cycle, straddles the primary schools and the collège (from CM1 to 6e). The second cycle, known as the "in-depth" cycle, covers the three other levels of the collège (from 5e to 3e).

Classes are single-grade, with one teacher per subject. The subjects taught differ according to the educational cycle:

-    In 6e, during the consolidation cycle: French, Modern Language 1, Visual Arts, Musical Education, History of the Arts, Physical and Sports Education, Moral and Civic Education, History and Geography, Science and Technology, Mathematics;

-    from 5e to 3e, during the cycle d'approfondissement: French, Modern Language 1, Modern Language 2, Plastic Arts, Musical Education, History of the Arts, Physical and Sports Education, Moral and Civic Education, History and Geography, Life and Earth Sciences, Physics-Chemistry, Technology, Mathematics.

Some colleges offer specific courses, whose curricula remain in line with those of other classes, but where teaching is organised in a different way:

-    classes à horaires aménagés (option musique, danse ou théâtre), which allow pupils to receive specialised teaching at the regional conservatory or in a state-controlled music school;

-    European or international sections, characterised by the enhanced teaching of a modern foreign language and the teaching of certain subjects in that language.

Organisation of the school year

The principles applicable to the elaboration of the school holiday calendar are defined by Article L. 521-1 of the Education Code; they are the same for primary, lower and upper secondary education.

The school year consists of at least 36 weeks divided into five working periods of comparable length, separated by four school holidays. School time is divided into terms. A national school calendar is established by the Ministry of Education for a period of three years. It may be adapted, under conditions fixed by decree, to take account of local situations.

Organisation of the school day and week

In accordance with Article R 421-2 of the Education Code, secondary schools (collèges and lycées) enjoy autonomy in "the organisation of school time and the arrangements for school life, as well as in the use of the teaching hours made available to the school in compliance with the obligations resulting from the regulatory timetables". The organisation of the school day and week therefore varies from one school to another.

In general, schools run all day on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and only half a day on Wednesday.

In the first year of collège (class 6ème), which is also the last year of the consolidation cycle after CM1 and CM2 in primary schools, schools are allocated 26 hours of teaching time per week and per class: 23 hours for the organisation of common lessons, and 3 hours for individual support.

For the in-depth cycle (classes 5, 4 and 3), each collège has an overall time allocation of 26 hours per week and per class: 22 hours for the organisation of common lessons, and 1 or 2 hours for individual support and 3 or 2 hours for interdisciplinary practical lessons.

Pupils also benefit from 10 hours of "class life" per year throughout their time at collège. These hours are intended to establish a dialogue with the pupils, to encourage their integration into the school, but also to prepare them for their future careers.